The second riding day of our Dutch bike tour was spent exploring the beautiful city of Haarlem before a colourful trip through the famous bulb region. We finished the day in Leiden, the oldest university town of the Netherlands.
Just because we were all tired after our first day of riding didn’t mean Soren and Anto managed to sleep in, they were both up before 6.30am, but we managed to keep Soren quiet until Astrid woke up. We had another long day ahead so could use the sleep!
We were only staying the one night in Haarlem and were keen to check out the breakfast at Hotel Lion D’Or. It was a French style hotel and had a beautiful breakfast room but it was the least interesting breakfast so far. That said, the kids enjoyed cooking their own boiled eggs, and there was still was an array of chocolate products and crusty bread, meats and cheeses.
As we were not returning to Haarlem so went out to explore a little more. Haarlem is home to around 150,000 people and is the capital of the province of North Holland and is situated at the northern edge of the Randstad, one of the most populated metropolitan areas in Europe. Despite taking us all day to ride (the scenic way) to Haarlem from Amsterdam, it is only a 15-minute train ride from Amsterdam. Many residents commute to the country’s capital for work. Haarlem is located on the river Spaarne, and has been the historical centre of the tulip bulb-growing district for centuries and bears the nickname ‘Bloemenstad’ (flower city), for this reason.
The streets of Haarlem were very quiet on a Sunday morning and we had a lovely wander along the canals and past interesting houses and pretty gardens.
Haarlem is also famous for its hidden ‘hofjes’. A hofje is a square of a tiny almhouse set around a beautiful courtyard, often built by a church or charity or to house single older women. There are around 20 hofjes in Haarlem and we’d spied a couple the afternoon before, but they were already closed by the time we arrived in Haarlem. They are all closed on a Sunday so it was bad timing for us. We still managed to see a couple through the gates, although many that we found were entirely walled so we couldn’t see into them.
Haarlem is a really pretty city, in my opinion it is worth the trip from Amsterdam as it’s just as beautiful and a lot quieter. To keep the kids happy there were also a sufficient quantity of windmills!
We walked back towards the main square (Grote Markt) which was very quiet and deserted on a Sunday morning. There was no sign of the hustle and bustle of the previous afternoon!
The shops and cafes were only just starting to open after 10am. While it was tempting to park ourselves at a cafe and enjoy the Sunday sunshine there was some riding to be done, and flower fields to see……. so it was back to the hotel to check out and over to the bike garage to retrieve our bikes. We managed to locate our bikes along with 6,000 other ones. The bike garage was certainly a sight to behold!
We had extra full panniers for the day. After getting wet and cold the day before we had packed even more weather proof and warm clothing. We had issues finding food the day before at convenient times, so we had also packed additional snacks and picnic supplies for lunch. With all the camera gear, the panniers were pretty heavy! The Dutch bikes are rather like tanks and very heavy, so we were working off our lunch and dinner in advance.
Our route for the day was indicated to be 35.1km, so a fairly short riding day. After the additional almost 20km over the indicated route that we ended up with the previous day we weren’t exactly trusting the route notes!
The route took us out of Haarlem through the suburban areas which had lots of lovely large houses and yards and we were quickly away from the traffic of Haarlem.
The road signs are always amusing and a couple of our favourites were the warning signs about trees falling on trucks and deer that were leaping out of signs!
Pretty soon we were riding through the countryside with lots of fat geese, ducks and swans swimming around in canals and streams beside the road. There were also plenty of lovely country estate houses to admire as we cycled past……
Before long we started spying flower fields. Tulips, crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths are grown in this area commercially for bulb export and temporarily transform the landscape into one of the country’s most famous tourist attractions. The bulb industry is critical to the Dutch economy, with 77% of the worldwide trade in bulbs coming from the Netherlands. It is estimated that 8.5 billion bulbs are produced every year in the Netherlands.
The huge fields of yellow daffodils are hard to miss, and then we started coming across the pink and purple of the hyacinths. The smell was amazing, and almost overpowering as you peddled past. It was a beautiful clear day with low wind so pretty ideal riding conditions, and definitely more enjoyable than the rain of the previous morning!
As we approached the town of Lisse we were well and truly on the bloembollenstreek – the most famous 30km of riding in the Netherlands, and the traffic was incredible. There were hundreds of people out cycling and there was a constant stream of bikes in both directions.
We finally came across the bright red of the first tulip fields in flower, which was pretty exciting! The photos do not convey how amazing it is to see (and smell) these massive fields with millions of blooms, spread out before us.
Lisse is home to the famous Keukenhof gardens and the area was very busy – riding to and from the gardens via the flower fields is a bucket list activity for many people, so we spent most of our time avoiding the crush of bikes. Some people out riding clearly hadn’t been on a bike in a while, nor were very familiar with riding in the Netherlands…… so they were making us look like experts!
We were getting hungry we decided to stop for hot chocolate and coffee a couple of kilometres out from Keukenhof in one of the many cafes. It was a popular spot to stop and bike parking was at a premium.
The route for the day took us directly past Keukenhof but the tour company recommend adding an extra day into the tour for the Keukenhof visit to allow enough time. This meant that we were going to ride back the next day and explore Keukenhof at our leisure. We were pretty excited about Keukenhof the next day but the afternoons riding was also pretty spectacular.
Throughout all of the flower region, there are a number of self-serve flower stalls, with extremely cheap, freshly harvested flowers. Despite staying in hotels we figured it would be criminal not to indulge in our own tulips. The next self-serve flower stall we passed we picked up a bunch of tulips for 5 Euros, for all 40 of them! We then rode with a huge bunch of tulips in the bike pannier for the rest of the day…….
We continued to ride past field after field of flowers. We were on the lookout for somewhere to stop and have our picnic lunch. Soren, on the back of my bike, kept asking to find flowers to eat lunch near. This should have been an easy task, but most of the fields we rode past had limited space on the edge of the road or were too boggy.
It was now after 1.30pm so when we were riding through a suburban area and past a kids park, the kids opted to stop for a play and lunch. We had lunch of dark rye bread, Dutch cheese and butter with some stroopwaffel biscuits. The kids were more interested in playing, but after almost 28km of riding for the morning Anto and I were hungry.
We eventually dragged the kids away from the park and not more than 10 minutes of riding later we were back riding past flower fields, this time with grassy bits surrounding them! Oh well, after the debacle of the previous day where we didn’t get lunch at all, we’d decided to stop when we could, as having actually eaten food made the riding much easier.
A few more kilometres and we weren’t far from Leiden. Our route into Leiden took us through some suburban areas with canals, grassy plains and alpacas! The side of the road was filled with free-range ducks and chickens, who were repeatedly crossing the road in front of bikes, and only moved when you road within 20cm of them.
We hit the city of Leiden and were making good time, until our GPS took us on a long round-about way….. again. It gets a bit confused and slow to update in city areas, which unfortunately makes the last few kilometres frustrating as we are all tired and the kids are ready to get off the bikes. My injured knee (despite being heavily taped) was misbehaving again, and I was in a fair bit of pain and trying not to think about how many more kilometres we had to ride on the holiday!
We eventually made it into the central bit of Leiden, another town full of canals and windmills! Our hotel for the next couple of day was the Best Western Leiden. In pretty much record time for our bike touring days, we actually make it there by 3pm!
Our room was ready and our bags had arrived, so up we went. This turned out to be our worst hotel of the entire trip. The room safe wouldn’t work, the wifi wouldn’t work and the bathroom flooded every time you turned the shower on. Half the lights in the room didn’t work, and worst of all the 3rd floor window wouldn’t latch with a drop straight down to the street the kids could get out of. After giving up on trying to fix some of the problems we talked to reception, who undertook to fix them while we went out for an explore and to find some food.
Leiden is in the province of South Holland and is known for its centuries-old architecture and for Leiden University, the country’s oldest, dating from 1575. It’s another pretty town, and despite the problems with our hotel, it was well located in the central area of the town. On a sunny Sunday afternoon it seemed like half the town was out drinking in the warm Spring sunshine.
It was approaching dinner time, so we were on the hunt for somewhere to eat. There seemed to be an awful lot of Italian restaurants in Leiden, but we were 2 days away from 2 weeks in Italy so we wanted to save our Italian eating for then! After awhile we were too hungry to care any more and settled for a Dutch pub style restaurant that looked busy.
They did 3 course deals so we decided to get 2 and share between us. We had a cheese fondue in a bun, a duck carpaccio with orange sauce, a vegie burger, and a schnitzel. For dessert the kids had a chocolate banana split and Anto and I shared the ‘cheese and wine’ which was a cheese platter, syrup, bread and dessert wine. Yes every meal in the Netherlands seems to be accompanied by a lot of bread (and cheese)!
The food was all pretty tasty but they had not been rushing our meal, probably assuming we were enjoying the last of a lovely relaxed Sunday. By now the kids were well and truly over being out so we left further exploring to the next day and quickly walked back to our hotel.
Sadly the situation at the hotel hadn’t improved a great deal. They’d only managed to fix the window issue, everything else was still a disaster. There were no other rooms big enough for the 4 of us and by the time they offered to move us to 2 different rooms the kids were asleep so we decided it was best to stay put for the night.
Travelling with minimal luggage and having not washed since Finland, the washing situation was getting a bit critical. Anto had located a laundromat so jumped on his bike (with Astrid’s trailer bike still attached) with our huge backpack containing about 10kg of washing, and peddled off to do some laundry. Apparently riding around the streets of Leiden with a large backpack of smelly clothes is fairly standard behaviour in these parts as he wasn’t the only one doing it!
Statistics for Sunday 2 April 2017 in Haarlem and Leiden, the Netherlands – the temperature range for the day was 5 to 15 degrees with a mean temperature of 10 degrees and abundant sunshine, perfect riding weather! The total riding for the day was 37.9km with 41 metres of elevation (the only real hills are over canals and rivers!). We also walked an additional 8.5km, so well and truly worked off our food for the day……..
Up next, one of the highlights of the trip, our visit to the amazing Keukenhof flower gardens, with some riding there and back!